Apologies for the long hiatus, Tenchinage has been focused elsewhere for the last little while. However, now I’m back and absolutely stunned at the latest craziness from the Won’t Anybody Think Of The Children brigade.
Have a look at the use of language in that article. ‘Spaced out’ adolescents have ‘fallen victim’ to an ‘insidious new culture’ that ‘preys on their vulnerable young minds’, apparently. Some of you may even have seen the videos abounding on YouTube of people wearing headphones, apparently experiencing.. something.. while listening to these binaural sounds. And it’s enough to stir the imaginations of the overly-concerned and reach the media in more countries than just New Zealand. Apparently it’s a New!Global!Phenomenon!
So what are binaural sounds? There’s a seriously technical explanation here, but the simple one is that two different, low frequency tones are played through headphones, one into each ear. The two tones create standing waveforms that mesh in and out of phase, and our brain supposedly responds to this meshing, theoretically making it possible to alter consciousness. This technique has been used in meditation for quite a long time.
The idea of using sound to alter consciousness is not a new thing. There’s a belief that the repetitive beat of electronic dance music can put the brain into an alpha state. The band Coil experimented with sound on their 1998 album Time Machines, naming each track after a drug. The tracks on the album are just drones, yet they supposedly have narcotic potency. And of course, there’s the much-maligned i-Doser – the one the article above is referring to. This is an application which allows a person to download and listen to binaural tracks, the effects of which are supposed to resemble the effects of drugs.
This isn’t a new thing either. I downloaded and tried the i-Doser in 2008. My verdict? If I squint really hard, cross my eyes and meditate while listening, I might feel something slightly different from normal. I actually had the most effect in sound-experimentation from listening to Coil’s Psilocybin while going to sleep. There were visuals involved with that, however the fact that I was in pre-sleep state means that the music probably enhanced rather than caused my mental state . Other people’s mileage may vary.
Additionally, according to the article above, there is no scientific evidence that binaural beats do anything to alter brain function.
So, a question. What the hell has people so het up about the iDoser? Sure, there are videos on YouTube of teenagers rolling around on their beds wearing headphones. To which I say, there are also videos on YouTube of teenagers doing things that are actually dangerous – yet the concern-trolls focus on this? WTF? My guess is that a lot of these young people are hamming it up for the camera – and even if they aren’t, what is the issue here?
The main reason we are told not to do drugs is because they are risky. There is danger of poisoning, addiction, brain damage, hurting yourself or others, the list goes on of reasons we are supposed to avoid drugs. Now, here’s a system of supposedly altering our consciousness that doesn’t have these associated risks – and yet, it’s still a bad thing? Why?
They say that it promotes the drug culture to young and vulnerable minds. I say that children are born into a drug culture. Got a headache? Take a Panadol. Having trouble concentrating? Have some ADHD medication. Can’t get a hardon? Viagra! Friday? Alcohol! The list goes on. Our children grow up seeing people use drugs, including drugs that alter consciousness, as part of a normal life. The whole time they are told that there are these drugs over here which are ‘good’, and these others over there which are ‘bad’. In my experience the distinction is pretty arbitrary. And young people are not stupid – they see the hypocrisy of condoning alcohol and tobacco while stigmatising hallucinogens, of popping Panadol and Prozac while demonising cannabis, and they know that much of what they are told about drugs is misinformation. So to say that the iDoser is corrupting young minds into absorbing drug culture is, in my opinion, a red herring.
What I think is really happening here is that those who have concern over the iDoser are showing their true colours. It’s not the danger that’s the problem – there is none with this. It’s not the drug culture that’s the problem – we all live in one anyway. The problem is that as a society we have become entrenched in the idea that deliberately altering one’s mindstate for entertainment is somehow morally wrong, and we don’t want our kids to ever believe that it might be ok, so we construct the iDoser as yet another corrupter of the minds of children, despite there being no evidence that it causes any harm or any further use of drugs, or even that it works.
Which leads me to my final question, which this issue has galvanised for me yet again – WHY is it wrong to seek alterations of consciousness?